By Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey
This is a guest opinion column
As Alabama students are beginning the new school year, there is already discussion on the promotion policy included in the Alabama Literacy Act that takes effect this year. There is no life skill more vital than reading, and there is nothing more transformational we can do for Alabama than to ensure all our students can read proficiently. So, we must press on with this mission.
Passing our students along when they are not reading at grade-level is doing them a major disservice. Recently, we have seen some discussion that if this promotion portion of the Literacy Act had been in effect last school year, more than 12,000 students would be subject to being held back. That has, once again, brought back chatter about potentially delaying the full implementation of the Literacy Act. I have had reporters ask me about it, too, on multiple occasions. My answer has been clear: Further delaying the promotion policy cannot happen, and I will very firmly veto a delay if a bill reached my desk.
It frustrates me to see a few folks in Montgomery not have the same faith in our students that I see out on the road when I visit our schools. The full implementation of the Literacy Act is simply vital to our students’ success.
Last year, I launched the Governor’s Turnaround Schools Initiative that aims to transform low-performing schools, as well as the surrounding communities. Fifteen schools were chosen from all areas of the state to participate, where they are receiving additional funding and targeted support.
Two of the Turnaround schools are in my home of Wilcox County. I had the opportunity to visit J.E. Hobbs Elementary and ABC Elementary to kick off the new school year in Alabama, and I left encouraged. From the caring teachers to the supportive school board members to the engaged students – I am extremely hopeful we are headed in the right direction in Alabama. Our students are excited to read and to learn. I saw that in the hundreds and hundreds of letters I received this summer in response to my Summer Reading Challenge.
Instead of focusing on just getting by, we need to focus on success. Our students, teachers and parents have the tools and are more than up to the task.
Alabama’s students should take full advantage of our tutoring, after-school and summer programs. Last summer, less than half of all eligible students attended summer literacy programs. We need that to be 100 percent – not fifty – especially for those who are reading below grade-level.
While we are making progress with sound policy like the Literacy Act, we must also ensure our students and teachers are focused on the reading science and phonics, rather than discredited theories like three-cueing. Three-cueing has the students guess the meaning of words. That does not seem to make a lick of sense, especially to someone who was a teacher.
Of course, as a former teacher, I know full well that our parents are our first teachers. Learning to read begins at home. That is why we are supporting the Dolly Parton Imagination Library book gifting program to be available statewide. When parents are reading to their kids at home, they will be ready by the time they come to school. Wise investments in our children and in our families will lead to a better Alabama.
When I visited Dozier Elementary in Montgomery, one of the students asked me how I liked being governor. It is certainly an awesome and busy job, but I told him that out of all my responsibilities, my number one priority is them – our students – and making sure that each of them has the opportunity to receive a quality education.
Ensuring our students are ready is the mission of the day, and I am more optimistic than ever before that Alabama students, teachers and parents will help us meet our goal of ranking in the top thirty states on student achievement. I tell our students I believe they can be anything they want to be, but that they first have to be good students.
Let’s tackle this challenge head on and not waste another moment.
Delaying student success will keep Alabama at the bottom. I want every child to be ready to be promoted from third to fourth grade and so on, and we are committed to making that a reality. The future of Alabama’s children depends on our work today.
After all, strong students will lead to a strong Alabama.